The Philomath City Council discusses an issue during Monday night’s meeting. From left, Matt Lehman, Diane Crocker, Chris Workman (city manager), Ruth Causey, Jim Brewer (city attorney), Jessica Andrade and Christopher McMorran. Mayor Chas Jones attended via videoconferencing. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath City Councilor Matt Lehman wants drivers passing through Philomath to start paying attention to the speed limit. In fact, he believes photo radar that cities statewide can now utilize through a new law could be the solution.

“Every single citizen of Philomath that I’ve talked to has overwhelmingly expressed interest in getting those radar signs put in that can actually issue tickets,” Lehman said, “because we’re all tired of getting passed by people going 35 or 40 (mph) through our downtown.”

It’s the latest twist in the city’s discussions about how to spend just over $160,000 in remaining America Rescue Plan Act funds. The council appeared to have finalized how to dole out the money a couple of weeks ago at an Aug. 28 meeting. But new information on things like cost projections, grant opportunities and project timing reignited the conversation.

Mayor Chas Jones upon reaching the ARPA funds issue on the meeting agenda Monday night made a motion, which later failed, to table the discussion to allow the process to play through with grant applications.

Councilor Diane Crocker immediately voiced concern that “we are kicking it down the road again” and was particularly interested in getting the Clemens Primary School student pick-up area improvements on South 19th Street finished.

City Manager Chris Workman said the flexible guideposts, which will be installed to separate the pick-up area from travel lanes, had already been ordered and the project wouldn’t be delayed. In fact, the final cost was determined to be $1,408, which is lower than the $3,400 estimate and creates an additional $1,992 to be spent elsewhere.

Crocker also directed concern to the need to contribute $60,000 in ARPA funding toward the cost of a backup generator for Starlight Village water pump stations. Councilors last month expressed an uneasiness about water availability if catastrophic fire was to break out in that part of town.

“I don’t have enough certainty on the final dollar amounts for these projects to know how much money we may or may not end up moving still,” Workman explained to councilors. “I started this memo thinking dollars and cents as opposed to time frames but each of these projects, we are moving forward with to the extent that we can.”

In addition to the backup generator and primary school area, other projects that had been approved include the replacement of four streetlights on North 13th Street ($80,000), a playground surface for Cochran Veterans Memorial Park ($10,000) and a contribution to the school district’s Downing Research Forest restoration project ($6,600).

On the Cochran park playground surfacing, the city may be learning toward synthetic turf and is waiting for a final bid. City staff is working with a manufacturer on the 13th Street lighting project. And a check for the Downing forest contribution was already distributed to the school district.

A complication with the backup generator for Starlite Village water pumps involves an estimated wait time of up to a year, which leads to the question of whether or not the city would still want to use the ARPA funds and instead pay for the project through other funding sources, which could include grants.

The possibility of freeing up ARPA funds if the generator is paid for through an alternative source prompted Lehman to pitch the idea of speed cameras with ticketing capabilities.

“We’re going to do the backup power supply regardless so I don’t necessarily think we have to use ARPA funds for it,” he said.

Earlier this year, a new law went into effect that allows cities statewide to use cameras to enforce speed limits. However, there are questions about whether or not the Oregon Department of Transportation would allow the use of photo radar on its highway that passes through Philomath.

“I think it’s worth gathering some information on that first to see if we can actually do it,” Councilor Ruth Causey said.

City Councilor Christopher McMorran said further discussion is needed, especially since the option of putting up ticketing cameras only just became legally available to cities this year. Others had similar observations and also want to bring the possibility to residents for their views. Jones suggested that the issue go to the Public Safety Committee.

Causey showed concern that the city’s possible reallocation of ARPA funds away from the backup generator would jeopardize follow-through on what she has strongly supported as a must project for that section of the city.

Workman said that the recent commitment of $60,000 out of ARPA dollars and another $60,000 out of water contingency funds along with the project’s inclusion in the Capital Improvement Plan and Strategic Plan illustrates that the backup generator is a priority.

“It’s to the point it’s kind of been through this vetting process and now we’re looking for the funding source,” said Workman, who followed up with information that made no promises but appeared favorable to the possibility of receiving a federal grant.

Workman added that he would have concerns over the photo radar proposal since it has not yet been vetted while several other projects are ready to roll. The city manager and a few councilors questioned the timing of the suggestion.

In the end after several motions, amendments and occasional confusion about exactly what was being voted on, councilors approved 5-1 (Crocker nay, Teresa Nielson absent) a request for city staff to gather information on photo radar for a future ARPA funds discussion.

In other news out of the Sept. 11 meeting:

• The council took a key step forward in the process to hire its next city attorney by approving the details to go into a request for proposals to be released as soon as this week. The city has hopes of hiring a city attorney within the next three months to replace Jim Brewer, who last month announced his plans to retire March 31. A timeline for the process shows proposals due Oct. 16, interviews to follow the week of Oct. 30, a decision announced by Nov. 13 and approval of a contract by Dec. 11.

• The council unanimously approved a resolution to proclaim Oct. 9 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

• The council approved a consent agenda that included minutes of its Aug. 28 meeting.

• Workman shared details and offered an opportunity to receive feedback on the city’s Façade Improvement Grant Program. A two-phase application will be implemented with a pilot phase to include three projects to receive up to $10,000 in matching grant funds. A selection committee would be made up of the city manager, city planner, chamber of commerce director, a planning commissioner and a city councilor.

• On a proposal out of the Inclusivity Committee for the city to support efforts for the governor to declare Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 9 as a legal, paid holiday, councilors unanimously decided to refer the issue back to the committee level to draft a resolution to be sent to legislators that shows Philomath’s future support for the concept. All councilors voiced support in general but did not want to be so specific with the action in question less than a month away.

• The council also heard an Inclusivity Committee proposal to implement city government accessibility improvements, including the option of allowing those ordered to appear in municipal court the option to testify through videoconferencing. Councilors agreed that the municipal court judge should be consulted for his perspective before moving forward with a decision.

• The council approved on a roll-call vote a nonexclusive franchise agreement to Comcast for cable services.

• In a Public Works report shared by management, it was announced that construction was completed on the North 11th Street improvements project. In other news, the city’s repaired street sweeper was due back this month after being out of service for nearly a month and a new two-yard dump truck arrived Aug. 31 after a wait of nearly a year.

• Councilors and legal counsel met for 15 minutes in executive session and did not reconvene in an open meeting for any announcements or decisions.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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